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Patent: A Platform For Drilling in Cold, Environmentally Sensitive Areas
Patent: A Platform For Drilling in Cold, Environmentally Sensitive Areas | hou_txbz, Benton F. Baugh, Craig Watson, houston, Keith Millhelm, The Woodlands, Ali G. Kadaster, 8226326,

Benton F. Baugh of Houston, Craig Watson of Houston, Keith Millhelm of The Woodlands and Ali G. Kadaster of The Woodlands received U.S. Patent 8,226,326 this week for “Artic Platform.”

Texas Business Patent of the Day:  Four Texas men have devised a drilling platform for extreme and sensitive conditions.

Benton F. Baugh of Houston, Craig Watson of Houston, Keith Millhelm of The Woodlands and Ali G. Kadaster of The Woodlands received U.S. Patent 8,226,326 this week for “Artic Platform.”

The four applied for the patent less than a year ago on August 11, 2011.

The patent assignee is Anadarko Petroleum Corporation of The Woodlands.

The present invention relates generally to the field of oil and gas drilling and production, according to the patent documents.

More specifically, the invention comprises a system and method of drilling oil and gas wells in arctic, inaccessible or environmentally sensitive locations without significantly disturbing an associated ground surface. 

The drilling and maintenance of land oil and gas wells requires a designated area on which to dispose a drilling rig and associated support equipment. Drilling locations are accessed by a variety of means, for example, by roadway, waterway or another suitable access route. In particularly remote locations, access to a drilling site is sometimes achieved via airlift, either by helicopter, fixed wing aircraft, or both. 

Some potential drilling and production sites are further constrained by special circumstances that make transportation of drilling equipment to the drilling site especially difficult. For example, oil and gas reserves may be disposed in locales having accumulations of surface and near-surface water, such as swamps, tidal flats, jungles, stranded lakes, tundra, muskegs, and permafrost regions. In the case of swamps, muskegs, and tidal flats, the ground is generally too soft to support trucks and other heavy equipment, and the water is generally too shallow for traditional equipment to be floated in. In the case of tundra and permafrost regions, heavy equipment can be supported only during the winter months. 

Moreover, certain production sites are disposed in environmentally sensitive regions, where surface access by conventional transport vehicles can damage the terrain or affect wildlife breeding areas and migration paths. Such environmental problems are particularly acute in, for example, arctic tundra and permafrost regions. In these areas, road construction is frequently prohibited or limited to only temporary seasonal access. 

For example, substantial oil and gas reserves exist in the far northern reaches of Canada and Alaska. However, drilling in such regions presents substantial engineering and environmental challenges. The current art of drilling onshore in arctic tundra is enabled by the use of special purpose vehicles, such as Rolligons  and other low impact vehicles that can travel across the arctic tundra, and by ice roads that are built on frozen tundra to accommodate traditional transport vehicles. Ice roads are built by spraying water on a frozen surface at very cold temperatures, and are usually about 35 feet wide and 6 inches thick. At strategic locations, the ice roads are made wider to allow for staging and turn around capabilities. 

Land drilling in arctic regions is currently performed on ice pads, the dimensions of which are about 500 feet on a side; typically, the ice pads comprise 6-inch thick sheets of ice. The rig itself is built on a thicker ice pad, for example, a 6- to 12-inch thick pad. A reserve pit is typically constructed with about a two-foot thickness of ice, plus an ice berm, which provides at least two feet of freeboard space above the pit's contents. These reserve pits, sometimes referred to as ice-bermed drilling waste storage cells, typically have a volume capacity of about 45,000 cubic feet, suitable for accumulating and storing about 15,000 cubic feet of cuttings and effluent. In addition to the ice roads and the drilling pad, an arctic drilling location sometimes includes an airstrip, which is essentially a broad, extended ice road formed as described above. 

Ice roads can run from a few miles to tens of miles or longer, depending upon the proximity or remoteness of the existing infrastructure. The fresh water needed for the ice to construct the roads and pads is usually obtained from lakes and ponds that are generally numerous in such regions. The construction of an ice road typically requires around 1,000,000 gallons of water per linear mile. Over the course of a winter season, another 200,000 gallons or so per mile are required to maintain the ice road. Therefore, for a ten-mile ice road, a total of 2,000,000 gallons of water would have to be picked up from nearby lakes and sprayed on the selected route to maintain the structural integrity of the ice road. 

An airstrip requires about 2,000,000 gallons of water per mile to construct, and a single drill pad requires about 1,700,000 gallons. For drilling operations on a typical 30-day well, an additional 20,000 gallons per day are required, for a total of about 600,000 gallons for the well. A 75-man camp requires another 5,000 gallons per day, or 150,000 gallons per month, to support. Sometimes, there are two to four wells drilled from each pad, frequently with a geological side-track in each well, and thus even more water is required to maintain the site. Thus, for a winter drilling operation involving, for example, 7 wells, 75 miles of road, 7 drilling pads, an airstrip, a 75-man camp, and the drilling of 5 new wells plus re-entry of two wells left incomplete, the fresh water requirements are on the order of tens of millions of gallons. 

Currently, arctic land exploration drilling operations are conducted only during the winter months. Roadwork typically commences in the beginning of January, simultaneous with location building and rig mobilization. Due to the lack of ice roads, initial mobilizations are done with special purpose vehicles that are suitable for use even in remote regions of the arctic tundra. 

Drilling operations typically commence around the beginning of February, and last until the middle of April, at which time all equipment and waste-pit contents must be removed before the ice pads and roads melt. However, in the Alaskan North Slope, the tundra is closed to all traffic from May 15 to July 1 due to nesting birds. If the breakup is late, then drilling prospects can be fully tested before demobilizing the rig. Otherwise, the entire infrastructure has to be removed, and then rebuilt the following season. 

From the foregoing, it is clear there are several drawbacks associated with current arctic drilling and production technology. For example, huge volumes of water are pumped out of ponds and lakes and then allowed to thaw out and become surface run-off again. Also, the ice roads can become contaminated with lubricant oil and grease, antifreeze, and rubber products. In addition to the environmental impact, the economic costs associated with arctic drilling can be prohibitively high. Exploration operations can be conducted only during the coldest times of the year, which typically lasts less than 4 or 5 months. Thus, using ice pads, actual drilling and testing can be conducted in a window of only two to four months or less, and actual production and development can occur during less than half the year. At the beginning of each drilling season, the ice roads and pads must all be rebuilt, and equipment must again be transported to and removed from the site, all at substantial financial and environmental cost. As for the commercial development of hydrocarbons in the arctic tundra, the current state of the art requires the use of a gravel pad for year round operations. When production activities are completed (for example, at the end of the lifecycle of the field), the gravel pads must be removed and the site remediated. Such remediation efforts can be very costly and difficult to accomplish. 

As a result, the four Texas devised a system and method of constructing drilling and production platforms that are particularly useful in remote, inaccessible and/or environmentally sensitive operating environments.

According to one aspect of the invention, an arctic drilling platform is provided wherein various methods and means of interlocking neighboring platform modules are provided. Methods and means for sealing the intersections formed between a plurality of interlocked platform modules are also disclosed. According to further aspects of the invention, improved platform floor plans are provided, and various wellhead cellar layouts and sealing means are also described. Methods and to means of enhancing the usefulness of modular storage platforms are disclosed, and a number of support post installation and removal techniques are also provided. Also taught are a variety of methods of adjusting the height and level of an assembled drilling platform, and methods and means of adding extension members useful for extending the length of a support post are also described.